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November 01, 2007

Don't Judge a Cake by its Pan - or Should You?


About a month ago I got a very fun and exciting opportunity passed on to me by the awesome Amy of Cooking with Amy. Nordicware, the maker of those beautiful and whimsical bundt pans in which you can make a cake in practically any shape nowadays, was in the final round of its annual bundt cake recipe contest. The final bake-off was going to be held in San Francisco and they needed a third judge, which turned out to!

Before you start wondering whether I put on my best Simon or Paula from American Idol impression, I'll tell you that everyone, from Dana the Nordicware rep, to the other judges, to all ten finalists were super nice and friendly. Considering that the grand prize was $10,000 (did you hear that? I expect to see all my fellow baking bloggers out there entering next year!) the atmosphere was quite casual and relaxed. All the finalists had been flown out to San Francisco and got to stay here for a couple days for the bakeoff, and they all seemed as excited about getting a trip out to the west coast as a chance to win first place!


I arrived at the professional kitchens in the morning as the first 5 contestants were finishing up their cakes. They were displayed, photographed for posterity, and then we judges got to sit down and dig in while the other 5 contestants baked their cakes. It was nice that the baking and judging were done in two rounds because the bakers all got more space to spread out in the kitchen, and we judges didn't have to eat ten cakes at once!


The theme of the contest this year was Holiday Bundts, and entrants were to create a bundt cake recipe celebrating one of ten American holidays. The finalists were each chosen to represent one of those holidays, so it was a sort of "best in show" final. The cakes were judged on several criteria, including originality, taste, texture, appearance, use of ingredients, and an essay. What, you thought all I had to do was eat cake? I was very impressed with the cakes, all of which were lovely and festive tributes to the holidays - really, it felt like I was celebrating a year's worth of holidays in one afternoon! One interesting rule Nordicware had was that since bundt pans by their shape are supposed to create beautiful cakes on their own, contestants were discouraged from elaborate decorations on their cakes, and we judges were supposed to account for that during judging. I liked seeing how the finalists managed to decorate their cakes to accentuate the form rather than overpower it.

I'm sure you're eager to see the finalist cakes for yourself and play judge, so here they are:


Father's Day: Daddy's Double Espresso Chocolate Cake with Cappuccino Froth


Easter: Lemon Lime Easter Cake


Fourth of July: Ameri-candy Doodle Dandy Bundt Cake


Halloween: Candy Corn Halloween Bundt Cake


Mother's Day: Meyer Lemon Baby Cakes with Candied Lemon Zest


St. Patrick's Day: Irish Whiskey Bundt Cake


Christmas: Mint Mountains


Thanksgiving: Caramel-copia Thanksgiving Bundt Cake


Hannukah: Magen David D'Light Cake


Valentine's Day: Chocolate Cherry Bundt Cake

I'm sure you've noticed how gorgeously all the cakes were plated and styled - the ladies went all out! I believe the finalist who baked the Fourth of July cake even wore a red, white, and blue shirt to go with her cake! Many of the cakes also came with fancy accompaniments, like sauces, chocolate-dipped cherries, even chocolate-covered espresso beans!

You can get recipes for all the cakes here. So who won? I'm afraid I can't tell you yet! Nordicware is revealing the winner on November 15th, so check back then. I'll also let you know after the 15th what I thought of the winning cake as well as the other favorites. In the meantime, I'd love to know which one you like! Take a look at all the cakes, check all the recipes, and post your favorite - and see in a few weeks if you picked the winner! Hopefully these cakes might give you a new inspiration for your holiday baking. As for me, I had a great time judging, although I'll admit it's easier to be baking than to be trying to choose between ten different delicious cakes!


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ooh, what a great event all of these cakes look and sound delish! I don't think I would envy you having to choose a winner, still it must have been a great experience :)

My pick:
Daddy's Double Espresso Chocolate Cake with Cappuccino Froth

She won me over when I first feasted my eyes on the uber-tantalizing photo. She sealed the deal when I discovered she used Ghiradelli's Espresso Escape chocolate as an ingredient in the recipe. I will definitely be making this cake in the next few weeks!

I'm going with the Christmas mint because to me it is the one that shows the cake the best - and the snow capped mountains look so cool!

I find it incredible that at a baking competition somebody would submit a recipe that relied on a cake mix (see star of david cake). Also, 1 cup of rose water?? That seems a bit excessive.

hands down, the Valentine's Day bundt cake is my favorite; but all the cakes really ARE incredible, edible works of art!! Looking forward to hearing which cake won!! :0)

That's so cool! All the pictures make me want to go bake a bundt cake.

How exciting that you get to judge. Congratulations. Will I be seeing you on tv soon? :).
I really like the meyer lemon baby cakes. I've been eyeing their mini bundt pans for a while now...I think I'm going to make that purchase.

I am so envious of your turn as a cake judge! So I decided to host my own National Bundt Day contest, the Big Bundt Appreciation Bake-off. (Well, I actually decided to host b/f I read this entry, but close enough.)

You should submit -- I'd love to see what you'd come up, although you do have significant advantage now that you've seen & tasted so many Bundt cakes!

I like the Cappuccino froth cake. I think the word froth won me over. Great honor for you congrats!

Wow, that is amazing that the Star of David used a mix and still was a finalist. I guess they want to show you don't need 10 years (or even 10 days) of baking experience to use their products.

Okay anyone using a cake mix would be out of the question for me... As is food colouring but that's just me.

At first glance, the Father's Day cake was the winner but when checking the recipes, the Thanksgiving and St Patrick's Day cakes sound really wonderful, too. And what about the cute Mother's Day cakes... - you must have had a hard time deciding!

How exciting! I like almost all the presentations...some of them are just too cute(the valentine heart and the minty!)

Oh wow that's too cool! I'm torn between the espresso cake and mini cakes because I love coffee and miniature things. :D

Hi Anita , it must've been amazing judging that competition. They all look gr8 but i think the Halloween ones looks best .The presentation looks prefect. Nice going with the calories too...:P eating all those cakes :)))

How cool that you got to be a judge of these fabulous cakes.
My favourite one for eating would be the Double Espresso Chocolate Cake, but I love the look of Mint Mountains.

wow how did you get invited to be a judge for that contest?! that sounds like so much fun. my eyes are all for the candy corn cake...

ok i take that back since it's a box mix! not that boxed mixes are bad...but it's just not my style. i'm thinking the espresso cake now.

william sonoma has some great cake molds.

Ain't they gorgeous! Lovely!

It was fun but a hard choice - I didn't know being a judge could be so difficult!

I'll tell you that was one of my favorites- I think you'll like it!

I thought that was one of the prettiest ones too - good choice!:)

I was a little surprised too but I guess there was nothing in the rules against it, and these finalists were chosen before we judges were brought in for the final round. I believe the rosewater can be reduced or omitted - it was a very exotic tasting cake!

Yes, the finalists went all out in terms of props and decorating! I'll let you all the winner very soon!

I know - when I found out about the prize I thought, "I should have entered instead of being a judge!" And it reminded me of how versatile these pans can be!

Sadly, no televised showing of this event - although it would have been fun! I did like the baby cakes - it must be all the mini-portions we do for our blogs!

I think it's great that you're spreading the Bundt love!:) Unfortunately, I didn't have time to make a cake, but I'll be sure to check out all the entries!

The froth defintely was a clever touch. I think you're right that the contest was meant to show that anyone could make a great cake with the bundt pans. I'm actually glad that most of them were from-scratch; there's a lot of talented bakers out there!

It was interesting the range of recipes out there...I guess the entries that used food coloring, they really wanted to emphasize the theme of the cake! You have great taste btw, the cakes you picked were among my favorites too!

The contestants certainly went all out to celebrate the holidays with their cakes! I thought the mint one was especially good at capturing the spirit of christmas!

I loved the mini cakes too - I think because I'm so used to baking individual portions for the blog! I really liked that the recipe used Meyer lemon. The espresso cake was great too - both good recipes!

It was fun! I was amazed how creative the entries were - I never would have thought of making a cake look like a giant candy corn!

Those were two of my favorite cakes - it looks like my readers have the same tastes I do!

I was impressed with how the cake mix cakes tasted, but yes, that espresso one was a real favorite of mine!

Yes, they do. I'm always tempted to buy them until I see the price tag!

Big Boys,
Well I can't take credit for them this time - there's many talented bakers out there in the US!

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